I have written this article after much prayer and reflection. I believe it’s important to know what is going on behind closed doors in many of our local churches.The incidents outlined here are true, and happened to myself and my children and others whose names I have changed to protect their privacy, all other details are fact. The church where the abuse and neglect occurred is part of a large well known organisation of charismatic churches called ‘Salt and Light‘ in the UK. The church has a hierarchical, hyper-authoritarian model of leadership. There are numerous causalities from this church within its town, many of them ‘in recovery’ at various other churches. Many more have stopped attending any church at all since leaving, they are so fearful and mistrusting of all churches. The aim of this article is:
* to expose false teachings and doctrines,
* to support and encourage those who have left similar churches in the UK and elsewhere,
*To encourage those who are worried about their own churches not to be afraid to ask questions and test those in leadership, see 1 Jn 4:1, 1 Th 5:21, 1 Tim 5:19-20, Rom 12:2, Matt 7:15.
As J. Gill says: “Examine everything according to the word of God, the test and standard of truth. Search the scriptures, as to whether the things you hear are true or not, test ministers of the word.”
In this church you are subtly encouraged to mistrust anyone or any literature or organisation that is not controlled by the churches own umbrella organisation. There is definitely a we/they mentality. A feeling that ‘we’ are the best church in town the only one with the complete truth.
Attendance at all Sunday and midweek meetings is considered mandatory by the leadership. You will fall out of favour with the leadership if you miss meetings. Being ill, depressed, away visiting friends or on holiday will not be a good enough excuse. A leader from another church in the organisation who is himself having reservations about the church said ” church attendance every week is expected by the elders. If you don’t you are seen as disloyal and not on their side. The leaders see things as black and white.” This leader makes it a priority to get young recently converted teenagers in his area to church every week so the leadership will hopefully accept them.
A lady going through a difficult divorce was finding it hard to face church every week. She had a visit from an elder. He wanted to know why she had not been coming every week. When she told him her reasons he slammed the Bible down opened it and began reading Hebrews 13:25 “lets not give up meeting together” when she protested that she hadn’t given up going but was just finding it hard at the moment, the elder began shouting at her telling her the Satan was getting into her mind. She begin to cry, the elder continued ranting while she sobbed, she had to ask him to leave. He picked up his Bible stormed out of her house slamming the door behind him. There was no apology then or at any time afterwards. She has since left the church and is recovering from this and other episodes of abuse.
This church only seems to feel a responsibility to help those who go every week and are “committed” to their programme, and are official ‘members’ of the church having been on the membership course and been given approval by the leadership to join.
A young man who was homeless and sleeping rough was refused help as he had been to another church, the Pastor remarked “he is not our responsibility as he doesn’t come here enough” he eventually backed down and helped him after some persuasion from the young mans friend. The young man eventually left the church in disgust after the pastor refereed in a sermon to homeless people as “lowlifes”.
A year long training course for young people had been widely advertised in the church. After praying about it a young woman approached the elder in charge to say she was interested in doing it. His immediate response was ‘ no’ she couldn’t do it, he didn’t hesitate and didn’t pray about it. The girl was the right age, a totally committed Christian, she fulfilled all the necessary criteria to do the course. The elder said it was because she wasn’t a member. ( she had been a regular attendee for 4 years. ) Later she found that others had done the course when they were not ‘members’ and she felt hurt and rejected. Being a child of a leader or someone with influence within the church guarantees your child a place on the course – regardless of the childs lifestlye or commitment to God. The girl in question came from a poor, single -parent family, although she was ‘on fire’ for God and following him with all her heart. With hindsight the girl realised that the leaders probably didn’t want her on the course due to her background and the fact that she was not under their ‘control’ and would not be afraid to question anything if she felt she was being manipulated or indoctrinated. She has since left the church and is recovering, from this and other episodes of abuse.
A single-parent asked a teacher from the church school for help with Maths for her dyslexic daughter. An elders wife heard about it and said to the mother “your daughter is your responsibility” when the mother said” but aren’t we all part of the same family” the elders wife responded “it was presumptuous of you to ask , you don’t come here often enough to be seen as part of the church family”. She had been going regularly for 3 years. She has since left the church and is recovering from this and other episodes of abuse.
To make matters worse becoming a member is not automatic on you attending membership classes. There is a selective recruitment process. You will only be invited to become a member if the leaders know you will ‘obey’ and ‘submit’ to them in all areas of your life including your personal life. Although this is not generally made clear, the leadership will have been watching you to see if you are compliant and submissive to their requests before you will be invited to become a member.
The leadership needs to hold on to its control. Its easier to control people if they all think and act alike. This is probably why unity and conformity are emphasised. Many who have left the church remark on the ‘clone’ like characteristics of the members. Certain personality traits are thought to make you a good Christian. When you go to the church for the first time you will find the majority of people behave in a certain way, especially the leaders. Most members are calm, sombre, pliable, emotionally cool and they all tend to have a rather glazed look in their eyes. This behaviour eventually begins to influence newcomers and they begin to behave the same, most seem unaware of the change in their personality. This makes things a lot easier for the leadership to exert their control. With your new personality you will become submissive, unquestioning and accepting of all that your leaders tell you. Without fail you need to succeed at becoming a clone (or at least appear to the leaders like you are a clone) before you will be considered for any recognised role within the church, a role which is decided for you because it fits in with the leaders desires, and may or may not fit in with the gifts God has given you. New converts from poorer backgrounds, those who are broken by life and already socially excluded in the world often do not possess the social skills required for ensuring acceptance within the church. Often it has taken them all their strength just to get to church on time and sit through a service which really has no relevance to them. They get very confused and usually leave the church quite quickly.
It is so often said that ‘this is the best church in town’ that for some reason it gets conveyed to people that this is the ‘only’ church in town where you can find and keep your salvation. Another excellent method of keeping you, your time and your money at the whim of the leadership. Members come to believe that their self-worth and hope for salvation are tied to staying in the church. Some members who see first hand unchristian behaviour in the leadership will still stay, this could be the reason. The indoctrination seems to bring with it an ability to filter out anything you see or hear about the church which is bad, members can and do lose the ability to make reasoned personal judgements.
What follows is a list of 15 signs which are apparent at this church and are evidence of spiritual abuse of its attendees and members:
* The attitude that we are superior to all other churches, our message is superior as is our understanding of the Bible
* A lack of tolerance for disagreement with the leadership.
* Squelching of members freedom of thought when it differs form the leaderships.
* Instilling a belief that disobeying certain requests (which do not deal with Scripture morals or values) from the leadership is a sin, when in fact it is not sinful
* Relentlessly judging of members’ hearts or motives
* Causing members to want to leave if they disagree with the opinions of the leaders.
* Causing your decision-making process to diminish because you need to run everything by your leaders first, and so causing loss of personal initiative.
* Subtly teaching that you need to follow all the leaderships advice for your spiritual growth even when you don’t feel right about it.
* Exercising discipline or correction upon anyone who will not follow a leaders advice even when it is not laid down in Scripture.
* Cause people to suppress their real personality type or change it.
* Cause members to feel they are going against God when they have independent thinking from the leaders.
* Cause members to feel they are rebellious when they are struggling with accepting leaders advice.
* Creates clones rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to shape the members as they grow into their individuality and uniqueness in Christ.
* Have leaders who ‘lord’ it over the flock rather than lovingly leading them.
* Has emphasis on uniformity rather than unity.
Relationship and Gender issues.
The church has a policy of extreme submission by all women to men: Wives to husbands; single and divorced women to all the males in the church especially those in leadership. Based on 1Cor:34-35, women are treated as second class Christians, whose ideas or views are of necessity inferior to men. Men are considered the wiser and naturally more able in church matters. This passage is one used to keep women quiet and feeling inferior. It is never considered that this passage maybe written to recently converted wives who were uneducated in spiritual matters and apt to ‘gossip’ among themselves if they didn’t understand something. They were instructed to ask their husbands at home. But what about the educated women who did not have husbands? They were not being addressed. What about the divorced women who were educated and had much wisdom to share? They were not being addressed either. What about Lydia, Priscilla, Phoebe and Juniasetc. who were all prominent church workers, commended in the N.T. Priscilla is often mentioned before her husband (see Rom16:3, Acts18:18, 2Tim 4:19.) and Junias is considered ‘outstanding among the apostles.’ (see Rom16:7).
Women because of their perceived obvious inadequacies will not be taken seriously if they have a vision for the church or a new idea. 1Tim:2-12 Paul ‘does not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man’ This passage is quoted at a woman if she starts to act in a way which the elders feel is threatening i.e. if she starts to believe God may want to use her in other ways apart from being a mother and/or wife. In the church Paul was addressing all women were unlearned and so not able to teach. Other women mentioned earlier were obviously teaching, so he couldn’t mean this to apply to all women. The word for ‘authority’ in this passage, in the Greek translates as ‘misused or usurped authority,’ ‘bullying or dictating’ to someone. As long as a woman is learned in spiritual matters has studied scripture and is reasonable and wanting to please both God and her fellow Christians there seems to be no reason why she should not preach or teach.
The policy this church has produces extreme, prolonged depression in some women, as they suppress their independent thoughts, often having to deny God given gifting and callings to the authority of the leadership. Motherhood and homemaking are so highly esteemed as to give the impression that to have any interests outside of this is wrong. Occasionally a female will lead worship but only if she is married or single (not divorced!) and she is a ‘member’ and puppet of the leadership. The only permanent leadership role available to women as that of Sunday school leader, under the direction of the all male eldership. Many women because of this un- christian control and manipulation live under a spirit of condemnation for wanting to serve God in ways they feel God is asking of them but the church will not permit.Women are expected to be quiet and submissive at all times and never question the leaders. Scripture expects that all Christians will test and approve that which is good not just the men. We are all told to watch out for false prophets, see 1Jn:4:1, Matt 7:15.
Women who experience difficulties in their marriage are usually advised to submit, love, and respect their husbands more. It is usually decided that it is the woman who needs to change. Husbands are rarely if ever encouraged to love, consider or show more affection towards their wives.A lady in a physically violent marriage, turned to the church for help, she wanted to leave her husband. She was told by an elder and his wife that she should not leave her husband as her marriage was “a glory to God” She never went back to the church again. Soon after she was nearly strangled to death by her husband and is now divorced, she hasn’t set foot in any church in over five years. Another lady going through a difficult and horrible divorce was told by an elder “if you do not have your husband back you will lose your son” her little boy was 6 at the time.
A divorcee who had been working with many disadvantaged families, and single people in her neighbourhood for years, had a vision for bringing them into the church , many had been once or twice but not stayed. She discussed it excitedly with her Pastor. He told her she couldn’t head this vision up, they would bring in a suitable couple from another church in the organisation to do the work. The lady was quite capable of handling her own vision! The couple appeared, they didn’t live in the area didn’t have the relationships the lady had built up over many years. The vision died. The lady left and is now fulfilling her calling and vision in another church in the area.
Female divorcees with children find themselves in an intolerable position. They have no man to protect and nurture them and they have sole responsibility of child rearing, the male elders will be hard on the woman as it will assumed the marriage breakdown was her fault. She will not be encouraged to take any useful part in church life, will be expected to stay at home with her kids every night, and then likely be made to feel bad for watching too much T.V!
Husbands are expected to have all encompassing responsibility for their households, directing wives in all areas not just when conflicts arise.Fathers are taught to beat their children with a stick if they are naughty. One elder regularly tells a story of his children’s fear of the big stick under the stairs, of how he would beat them into compliance while they screamed in pain. He said it was OK afterwards as they would always be ‘sorry’ for what they had done!
Friendships between men and women will be broken up if the leadership don’t approve. A female single parent who had a close platonic friendship with a male single-parent was advised she should” cut him out of her life” as the friendship was considered ‘unwise.’
The man had been suicidal after his wife left. He had 4 kids and they had come to look to the woman for support which she had been happy to give over a period of 5 years. To cut this family out of her life she felt would be extremely detrimental to the mans 3 teenage daughters with whom she had strong bonds. Thankfully she did not, even under pressure, take this advice. Both the elder and the younger daughter have since made a commitment to Christ. The lady still has a good solid (platonic) friendship with their father 4 years later.
Financial and Tithing issues.
Tithing is mandatory for members. Even if you are materially very poor with a large family you will still be expected to give at least the minimum of 10% to the church. If you tell the Pastor you are finding it hard he will suggest that the church carry out an audit on all your incoming and out goings to make sure you are using your money wisely. If you don’t tithe you will find yourself refused financial help if you need it.
A poor family who had been going regularly to the church for 3 years were refused help in paying to go on the church holiday., (the only one they could hope to have that year) one reason for refusal was not tithing. When the mother approached the Pastor for help a second time she was refused again. There was no empathy, understanding or concern for her plight.
The church is extremely wealthy, being full of wealthy middle class members who all tithe large amounts. Recently they have raised over £1 million for a new building. For the sake of a £50 contribution from the church the poor family did not have a holiday that year.
Leaders weekends away are expensive affairs. 5 star hotels are usually booked. A leader recently phoned his friend back home laughing about the “swanky hotel” they were all staying in, all expenses paid.
There is a church owned and run school, if you do not tithe you have to pay more for your school fees. Even if you do tithe the fees are extortionate. Taking your children out of the school is completely taboo, you are told that you are removing them from the covering of the church, implying that something awful may happen to them if you do.
Members of the church have to tithe at least 10% of all their income, there are then larder offerings, building fund offerings, harvest offerings the list goes on and all these are above and beyond your tithe. Few members ever volunteer for anything anymore, they are all exhausted and broke. Giving to other churches and causes is frowned upon.
The church practices believers baptism by full immersion. If you join the church having been baptised by sprinkling at another church, it will be strongly hinted at by the leaders that you need to be re-baptised by full immersion. This can be very confusing and upsetting if you have had a believers baptism by sprinkling which meant a lot to you. It starts to feel like your previous baptism wasn’t ‘true’ or not quite good enough. Subtle hints are dropped rather than direct pressure applied, until you begin to feel you are wrong for not taking the hints.
Although this expression is not often used to describe certain practices at the church, the senior pastor of the organisation advocates its methods. The practice is widely used as a weapon to break what the church sees as a ‘rebellious’ or ‘un-teachable’ spirit. The true meaning of ‘tough love’ is twisted in this church. What follows are 2 good examples of ‘tough love’
*A woman (and her children) are advised to remove themselves from the family home for a while as the husbandhasbecome a violent alcoholic. The husband is distraught as he loves his family deeply. This may bring him to his senses andhemay change his behaviour. The family may reunite.
* Withholding heroine from a drug addict who wishes to break the habit. Painful at the time but for his benefit in the long run.
In this church showing tough love towards some one is usually the leaders way of forcing you to do what they want or freezing you out of the church, what follows are examples of real events of ‘tough love’ as practised by this church:
* The girl mentioned above who wanted to join training course. The elder probably considered that it would teach her a lesson that she needed to come to church more often and be of a more submissive character.
The woman with a vision for the poor mentioned earlier was not a member and was strong and independent in her faith. Not allowing her to work her vision out would be likely seen by the Pastor to be ‘tough love’ a good way of teaching her to understand that single divorcees should not get ideas above their station, that she needed to understand that only those deemed fit by the leadership could lead anything. The lady was free in the Holy Spirit and this seemed to scare the Pastor. She may do or say something that would be beyond his power to control and influence.
* If it becomes known that you are raising what the leaders consider ‘difficult questions’ about the churches policies you can find yourself being totally ignored by the Pastor, in and out of church. This has happened many times. Perhaps a way of making you realise you need to keep your mouth shut.
* A divorced lady had a close but platonic relationship with a young man from another church. The lady had a call from the Pastor who told her she needed to end the relationship so as to avoid “the appearance of sin” (The same rule is not applied to leaders children who date). When she did not end the relationship all lines of communication between themselves and the woman were cut by the leadership. Eventually after a long and emotionally draining visit from a leader the young man decided to end the relationship himself, which he did as instructed by a phone call to the woman. The next day an elder rang the woman, telling her that they were all there for her now the relationship was over. He also told her that the leadership had decided to cut all contact with her until the relationship was over. Now it was, he and others in leadership would be there for her. Being there for her involved 3 phone calls. As she sobbed over the phone at losing her and her children’s only emotional, financial and spiritual support a leaders wife listened and remarked “what a needy person you are!” with seemingly no empathy or understanding.
The above examples would probably be thought of as good examples of tough love, when in reality they are examples of out of control, hyper-authoritarian, seriously unchristian behaviour, administered by men who are convinced they are treating these people with ‘love.’ If used at all surely scriptural guidelines should be followed to decide whether some one is ‘in sin’ or sinning against some one else before a programme of ‘tough love’ is administered.
Freedom of personal choice is taken away and you are made to feel ‘sinful’ for making your own decisions even in non- moral areas. This practice just becomes another tool in the hands of the leadership for getting people to conform to THEIR image, when they should be praying for the spirits supernatural work of conforming saints to CHRIST’S image.
You experience “conditional love” in this church. You are loved if the leaders can see a result, if you become more like them, become more agreeable to their demands, go to more meetings and give more money and time to their cause.
Attitudes to the poor.
Although there is no overt policy of bias towards the wealthy and middle class, there are plenty of reasons why the poor and outcast find it almost impossible to be accepted and feel valued in this church. The church is part of a national organisation of churches, it is run as a business. There are wages to pay, people to employ, buildings to purchase (the best of course!). There are speakers to be flown in, paid for and accommodated. There are staff retreats to fund (to the best hotels fo course), andmany, many other financial outlays to many to mention. Poor people, broken people, socially inadequate people, people with addictions and behavioural problems…. how can they be of any ‘use’ to the church. They are a burden, they can’t tithe or give money, they could blight the churches excellent reputation of nuclear family life, and exemplary life-styles. By default they are ignored, sidelined and silenced. Their needs are not considered…. why should they be? no-one will know if they are quietly pushed out……they have no voice anyway.
One single parent had worked relentlessly to bring her poor and disadvantaged friends to the church for a period of 4 years. Some had begun to go regularly on a Sunday. They wanted to meet together in the week but none could face going to a church house group, they were quite formal, middle class and seemed to offer nothing of any value or meaning to their particular way of lifeline or two had tried the groups and they had felt incredibly uncomfortable and inadequate and therefore never went back.
A group consisting of 4 single-parents, 1 homeless guy, one married lady, one single girl, a woman with learning difficulties and 3 single men were sat round having coffee one day chatting when the subject of house groups arose. They all decided to meet the following Wednesday night to study the Bible and share fellowship together. Every one was excited and expectant.
On the next Sunday a spokeswoman (Kerry) for the group of friends excitedly told the Pastor of their idea, the others crowded round, listening. The Pastor said that under no circumstances would the church support what they wanted to do. He would give them no money. (they hadn’t asked and didn’t want money!) andtheywould give them no time. They had come to him with a’ fait accompli’ and had not gone through the proper channels. He said “the elders needed to be consulted first, it was about authority and only the elders had authority to make decisions.” As she knew the overwhelming disappointment her friends were feeling on hearing this, as a last ditch attempt to encourage them Kerry asked if he would support them in what they were doing purely as their brother in Christ. ‘No’ was the answer. When Kerry asked how he could feel like that when Jesus spoke so often for the case of the outcast the poor and the broken his response surprised her. ‘My hands are tied’ he indicated ‘by those above me in the organisation and by church policy.’
Only 1 of the original 10 people still go to the church. The rest left feeling rejected, unheard and somehow just not good enough. Only one of them were contacted again after they stopped going by the leadership the rest were ignored.
Psalm 35:10 “I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.”
Because of the churches desire to always put on a good show to the world, the leadership seem to find it almost impossible to deal with people who have long term or outwardly visible problems, that may take years to resolve. People with messy life’s could put an ugly spanner in the works. Quick fixes are encouraged. The materially and spiritually poor tend to have more addictions, more emotional problems, more financial difficulties, more broken marriages etc. These kind of problems do not usually clear up with a couple of counselling sessions and an hour of prayer. If you don’t get well quickly the blame for whatever is wrong with you is laid squarely at your door.
The prevailing attitude is’ search your heart to find out what you did to cause your life to be in such a mess.’ We prayed for you, we listened to you, you have Jesus, now get up and shut up.
The problem is aggravated by the refusal of the leadership to encourage these people to use their God given gifts. Realistically they have no hope… people like this are the last kind the leadership want at the front or in any form of influence. Being encouraged to use their giftings would help many to feel useful and that they mattered and would help the healing process. In this church only the well in body and mind have and use spiritual gifts and then only if you are under the control and guidance of the elders.
Romans 15:1-2 says ‘we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up.’
‘God identifies himself with the oppressed and the exploited and the needy so completely that he defines our relationship with him according to our relationship with the poor.’ A wonderful picture of how things should be, but this is definitely not the case in this church.
Matt 23:13 “And woe to you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with heavy burdens they cannot carry, and you yourselves will not lift a finger to help them.”
Poor people with emotional baggage, people who have often suffered greatly already before they join the church find it totally impossible to live up to the leaderships expectations. They find it hard to hide behind facades as their backgrounds go before them, and are all too evident.
Most don’t even realise there are ways of doing things and channels to be negotiated. Often they won’t realise they have done or said something which is not approved of by the leadership. They just start to feel left out in the cold and ignored and eventually leave. Many don’t even realise there is a system in practice that will ensure they never get to have any say in what goes on and how things are done. When you don’t know there are hurdles to jump how can you jump them?
“I believe that as we recognise Gods heart for the poor, we get in touch with who God is: a father to the fatherless, a provider for the needy comforter to the hurting. We must draw near to the people who God has promised to uphold so that we can understand the urgency of their need and feel the intensity of Gods love for them”
Because of the way society operates the poor tend to look up to and be in awe of wealthy middle class people. They just accept andtryto fit in with the way they ‘do’ church, even though the whole set up is completely alien to the way they live their lives outside church. They have to get used to making appointments to see people, when most just have open house, they are made to feel inferior because they don’t carry a diary, they feel bad because they smoke, they feel bad because their houses are untidy, they feel inferior because they don’t speak nicely or have smart cars, they feel inferior because they don’t know how to make small talk, and their clothes are not neat and tidy. I believe this angers God greatly.
One young man who has now left the church tells a story of a prayer walk he went on withan elders wife. They only knocked the doors of smart tidy looking houses to invite them to a church bar-be-que She decided not to knock on doors of houses where the gardens were scruffy, or drives were untidy. She simply told the young man to pass them by.
When one single-parent with a heart for the poor noticed that they never came or if they did didn’t stay asked an elder why there were so few poor and needy people in the church he did what always seemed to happen and turned the question round and blamed her ” I always thought you had a chip on your shoulder about class” he quipped back at her. This was very confusing for the lady as her heart told her Jesus had a special place in his heart for the poor, the outcast and those having emotional or mental problems.
One lady invited her pregnant friend(Jess) to live with her for a while as her father had moved away andshewanted to stay near her boyfriend. Two years later Jess herself now with her own home took in her neighbour and 2 children so she could escape from her physically violent partner. When an elders wife heard this she retorted to the first lady ‘this is your fault, if you hadn’t taken in Jess when she was pregnant she would not have taken in her neighbour, you have set a bad example. ‘ The lady only took Jess in because of what it says in the Bible about giving refuge to the needy, (see Prov 31:20, Dt 15:11,Jas 2:16, Prov 14:21, John 19:27)
The poor and needy in this article all had the same thing to say. They felt like they weren’t and could never be good enough, they weren’t listened to, weren’t taken seriously in their faith, were never invited to take a truly active part in church life, They felt they were useless and that they had no gifts from God which were of any value. They all said they felt like 2nd class Christians. If their gifts had been recognised at all they would not be utilised by the leadership if their lives did not measure up in other areas. They all felt persecuted by the leadership and the central core of the church.
The church is set up to run as a business. Only programmes and ideas that fit in with the churches planned strategy will be allowed to get off the ground. The rules and regulations are to be followed at all times. The final arbiter will always be whether an idea or vision is in line with church policy, not that God may have made a course of action very clear either through prayer, circumstance or both. All activities, both old and new ventures, have to come totally under the control of the leadership. All activities are to be run by people who have been put there by the leadership.
Taking a course of study at the churches Bible school is a good route towards gaining respect and position in the church. The only problem here is that gaining entry to the college is carefully regulated by the leadership. They are careful to approve and encourage only those they see as being ‘suitable candidates’ (i.e. those who are under their control) to apply for a place. A total commitment to God, a wholehearted desire to serve Him and a yearning to study is not enough.
If there is a leadership vacancy in the church (i.e. an Elder or a Pastor) the candidates standing withtheleadership will be the most important criteria for deciding who gets the job, not the persons calling or gifting. It is not prayer, but church policy that guides leaders when they make decisions. Obviously both are needed for a church to function well. The difference here is that policy is the final arbiter not prayer as should be the case. The Pastor who would not support the Bible study group mentioned earlier admitted that his hands were tied by those above him. The proper channels had not been negotiated. This policy of always having to obey the heirachy guarantees that if an idea finally gets put into practice it will be lead by someone who the leadership have under their control.
A young girl who had to make an important decision about whether to stay on in 6th form or go to college asked the Pastor for prayer. She was the child of a single-parent and had never had a father, the Pastors concern for her was all the more important to her. He and his wife prayed with her. During the prayer time the young girls mother heard paper rustling, she opened her eyes to see the Pastor copying names for the church address book from one piece of paper to another! This deeply hurt the young girl who had also noticed. She felt hurt and offended by his obvious lack of interest in the important decision she had to make.
Psalm 140:12, “God will be a father to the fatherless.”
Often while an elder or Pastor is praying for someone their eyes will be wandering round the room checking what else is going on. This is very disconcerting for people opening their hearts often with difficult issues they are facing.
Often leaders will give answers without any recourse to prayer or even to reflecting on the situation. In the case of the single parent mentioned earlier wanting to go on the church holiday, the Pastor just said ‘no’ he did not even think of asking God what He thought.
Thinking of leaving?
If you are thinking of leaving the church or do leave one of two situations can arise depending on which category the leadership think you fall into.
If you are considered possible ‘indoctrination material’ you will be chased ie if you are financially solvent, own property, speak nicely and have an outwardly clean life. The Pastor and/or elders will start to pay you a lot more visits to make sure you are ok. Suddenly they will have a lot more time for you. Cash inducements may be offered. A lot more people in the church will suddenly take an interest in you, and you will wonder why you wanted to leave in the first place.
This is the category that almost all the people mentioned in this article fall into. All of them being either poor, marginalised, life-damaged, or socially outcast in some way. For what ever reason they have not become indoctrinated, the leadership are aware of this and so do not go after them. At the point of deciding to leave few if any will be aware that they are the blessed ones. Most will have been severely damaged by the church but will not at this point understand the full implications mentioned here. What they desperately want and need is to be chased. They feel like the ‘lost sheep’ but no shepherd comes to their rescue. What they don’t see is that those in leadership are often glad to see the back of them. They had already decided they were ‘un-teachable’ or ‘rebellious’ and not up to the superior standard of Christianity which they themselves have attained. Lots of hand washing is done.
From here on in it gets worse, sometimes much worse for those who leave. Former members in the church suddenly fail to recognise you in the street, even if they are standing next to you in a shop at the checkout. It happens far to often for it just to be coincidence. Even people you thought were close and trustworthy friends suddenly forget who you are. If you make the first move and say ‘hello’ you can see in their eyes that they are wary of you and you don’t understand why.
Many who have left find it almost impossible to make decisions about anything. They are so used to asking an elder or personal pastor for advice. Some feel they are ‘in sin’ if they do make a decision without the approval of the leadership they have left behind. Some still feel drawn to go back to the church even though they know they have been abused there. It is naturally hard to come away from the only way of being a Christian you have ever known and leave behind friendships you have built up over many years.
There seems to be some level of brainwashing and mind control apparent to make someone feel they need to return even though they fully recognise the church has been bad for them. Many who have left come to realise and recognise ways of relating to people and situations that are not their own, but are the result of years of indoctrination. Those who leave after many years may well need a time of grieving and before they can ‘trust’ again in another church.
One young man (who has now left the church himself) recalled what happened after someone walked out of a meeting in disgust, never to return. He said word was passed around that the man who left had emotional problems, that he could not manage his anger, the general consensus was that the man was trying to ‘spoil’ our perfect church and there were hints that he had allowed Satan into his life. As you can imagine when members come to believe these kind of judgements about a person then they are likely to avoid them in the street.
As members link their salvation to being part of this church if some one leaves then it follows they must have lost their salvation or be in danger of losing it. Avoiding such people is seen as protecting your faithfrom being influenced by those who are backsliding or worse those who must have become apostatete.
This treatment is very painful and confusing for those who leave as at the time all you want is for your Pastor and church friends to love you and attempt to try and understand why you feel you had to leave.
What follows is a list of the types of people mentioned in this article who have left the church because they feel they have been abused,
They include: single-parents, divorcees both male and female, people with problems of addictions of various kinds, women with serious marital problems, there are the homeless, the unemployed, the poor, the outcast, teenagers without either a mother or father, those who find Christ as a teen but who have no other family in the church and do not go to the church school and those with a criminal record.
The ‘sick’ the very ones Jesus said needed a doctor, the very ones he suffered and died for so that they could be free are being judged, crushed in spirit and made to feel even more useless and hopeless than they already did before joining the church.
Jesus teaches in Matt 25:31-46 that as we touch the least significant people in our society, we are touching him. The hungry, the thirsty, the lonely, the naked, the sick; those whom society has rejected.
They are the ones who have no voice because of their status and no power because they are generally poor andnot well educated. Its all too easy for those with the money andpower to trample over them, they are no threat to the smooth running of the church as who would ever listen to their complaints or take them seriously? As Michael Moynagh said recently at a seminar during Spring Harvest “we live in a fallen sinful world, because of this even in the church having money and being middle class means you will naturally rise to the top.”
The author of this article strongly believes that the root of the problems in this church, the organisation it is part of and many others across the country is an abuse of God given power and authority by those in leadership. This is fuelled by a lack of concern for what the Scriptures say about how we should treat the powerless, defenceless and poor. Church should be a safe environment for the broken and outcast. A place where all are included and offered the chance to heal and grow in faith. I believe many churches fall victim to the fleshy desires of making a success whether it be by recruiting 1,000s of people or making lots of money. The focus is shifted away from the model of a Biblical church towards that of a 21st century profit making recruitment business. The biggest losers in this strategy are the very ones Jesus came to set free, to save and to heal. Those on the edge of society, those who have nothing and no-one.Those who are are poor and socially unacceptable. Those who have nothing to offer but need everything.Perhaps many churches should read and memorise the biblical record of what church should be:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No-one claimed that any of his possessions were his own, but they shared everything they had. There were no needy persons among them. hose who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
Somewhere along the line this church seems to have lost what it really means to serve God and to build the kind of church recorded in these words……..